The Things That Matter

So, Doctor Who is regenerating, again, and this time, he’s regenerating into a woman. (She’s regenerating from a man? Something.) For those of us who were paying attention, it isn’t a surprise. (I’ve only seen the replacement playing the mother of a murdered child, and damn, I hope it doesn’t get that gloomy.)(Also, I was kinda rooting for Tilda Swinton. Ignore me.)

A lot of strong feelings about who plays a mostly asexual, 900 year old time-traveling alien in a children’s show. And, honestly, I’m not sure how much of it comes from people who actually watch the show, and how much is from outsiders. The Doctor could pretty much be played by a sentient mitten without changing the show.

So, the question is: Which parts of a particular character cannot be changed without changing the central core of the story?

It’s a tough question, because the answer changes from character to character, and most of the time, nobody cares enough to ask.

You couldn’t, for instance, change the character of Elizabeth Bennett into a man because the whole book is about women not having security because they were not able to own property. If she’s a man, she just inherits the farm. Problem solved. You also couldn’t turn her into a 20th century typist. Because, once again, she inherits the farm, and problem solved.

Why does Bridget Jones come across as being so much more vapid than the original? Because she doesn’t have any problems that couldn’t be solved by her pulling her own damn shit together. **cough** Twentieth Century Typist **cough**

You probably could turn Elizabeth Bennett into a Lesbian, though. Lack of legal standing=lack of stability=lack of ability to wind up with the person she really loves. Oh, yeah. There’s a problem.

And my own characters…

It’s a little on the patchy side. You could change this gender, maybe. But not that one. Careers are more solid, in general. She has to be a monarch. A fishmonger just wouldn’t be the same story. He has to be a former soldier, although it’s anybody’s guess what he’s been doing after the war. They have to be from opposite sides of the war, and they have to come from completely different cultures.

It’s probably going to help to separate out the MUSTS from the “just felt like its.”

So, what traits do your characters absolutely need? Which could be changed?


  1. Reply

    Reprobate, that is a really good question, and since I did a short online writing course, this is also a relevant question- does my character need to be the gender he/she is? Hmm…
    Current story, probably, they’re 2 girls who love each other as I wanted to have a sci fi story with gay protagonists where no issue was made of it, they just are.
    Previously had female heroine, Indian, so again, I wanted to redress the balance in speculative fiction writing.
    Making me think about the rest now. Good post!

    • Reply

      I think there’s something very appealing and powerful about the idea that elements which might **not** be crucial to the story can make a real-life difference. In a lot of ways, they’re the things that make my stories *my* stories, and not someone else’s. Why? Because I felt like writing it that way, and because I’m fairly sure other people will feel like reading it that way. You can tell a lot about who we are by the background stuff. Good luck with your story!

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